Truby King babies

Now in her nineties, my mother tends to remember the events of her
childhood as if they happened yesterday, while the events of yesterday, events
even of five minutes ago, she forgets.  Things slip from her mind but not
her childhood.  Her childhood is her greatest companion and comfort. 
My mother’s family as she now remembers them.  
These days when I make my routine weekly visit to my mother in her
retirement village room, she will tell me again and again how happy she is in
this glorious room that overlooks a small walled garden filled with roses and
in the centre an overflowing mulberry tree, and she will remind me of the
pleasures of her childhood.  
‘I can’t get this song out of my head.  You’d know it.  Oh my
papa.’  My mother shakes her head  as if to dislodge the tune and the
words, but they will not shift.  All day long she has heard the music in
her head. 
‘I loved that song,’ she says.  
I do not bother to ask for an explanation.  It is obvious.  My
mother was her father’s favourite and he hers.  Her beloved father with
whom she walked to church arm in arm.  Her beloved father, a school
gymnasium instructor, a man of short but powerful physique, a man who
disciplined his unruly sons, especially the second, the one below my mother,
the one who was his mother’s favourite.  The other five children missed
out, or so my aunt, my mother’s only sister, maintains.  
By the time they arrived their parents were
already worn out.  My mother, the oldest, considers this a nonsense. 
Long ago my mother told me about the influence of Frederic Truby King in
her life.  Her first babies were Truby King babies whenever my father was
around.  But in the middle times he was either away at work or off
fighting in the war and she could mother as she saw fit.
My mother preferred the times when my father was away she told me because she was then left free to care for her babies, to follow their whims, to put them to bed when
they were tired, to feed them when they were hungry, to hold them when they
needed holding and not to follow the rigid dictates of Truby King as
interpreted by my father. 
As a follower of Truby King my father insisted on discipline.  Four
hourly feeds.  The baby was to be held only for feeding and changing of
nappy then back to bed for the next four hours with no interference from
They might cry, these Truby King babies, but they soon learned it was
pointless.  Their cries would go unheard.
My mother talks about this time now as an aberration.  She thinks
it stopped when there were more babies because it was all too hard for my
father to police.  I was therefore not a Truby King baby nor the one below
me, nor any of my mother’s other babies born in Australia.  
Only the first three missed out. 
I’ve read up on Truby King.  His adopted daughter Margaret wrote a
biography on her father whom she adored.  He was born and lived at the
same time as Freud, and although also a psychiatrist by training, he took an interest not in the psyche but in the body and in preventative  health care.
He trained a troop of mothercraft
nurses to deal with what he considered to be ‘over-feeding’ but the notion of
systematized four hourly feeding came from a Dr Thomas Bull in 1850.
 Truby King pushed it further until people like Dr Spock and Donald
Winnicott turned the tide and helped people to realise the importance of
feeding as an emotional experience that cannot be systematised and deserves
respect and encouragement.
It turns out that Truby king had wanted his mothercraft nurses to become
friendly advisors to the mothers in their care but instead these nurses
tyrannised the mothers and insisted on order and rule bound behaviour in much the way
my father thumped the book of rules at my mother.  
My mother then lost her
confidence and her babies suffered.  
But who am I to judge the past?  I can only speculate and wonder.  

Your bones will start to crumble

In my sixteenth year of life, for reasons too long and
detailed to list here, I spent the best part of that year in boarding school. 
During that time I lost track of my body.  The only time I saw it was
at night in the dim light of the Immaculate Conception dormitory when I slipped
out of my blouse and tunic into my pyjamas.  It was too cold to linger long.  We did not have mirrors except in the downstairs bathroom
and once or twice a week I might catch sight of my face when I washed my hair
in the sink, but otherwise I forgot the rest of my body from the neck down.  
It was easy to hide within the uniform over which I wore a
baggy gingham pinafore.  In such capacious clothes it was easy to grow, and grow I did
into a much bigger person than I had been when I first started at boarding
Before then my brothers
had called me skinny Lissie, but in my adolescence, reinforced by my year at
boarding school, all this changed. 
During one of the holiday breaks my older sister took me to
shop for new clothes.
‘You’re bigger than me,’ she said when I tried on trousers
behind a curtained cubicle in Myers. 
‘You’ll have to watch out.’ 
Back at school I could not watch out.  The lure of the comfort food, hot
buttered bread rolls for breakfast drizzled with honey, and buns at after noon
tea united with vast mugs of hot chocolate.
A tiny photo of the boarders.  I’m the long haired one, standing at the extreme right in the middle row.  Our bodies are all well hidden behind our dressing gowns.  
When I left school I took to trying to shift my boarding
school bulk with diets and exercise.  I devised my own exercise regime and tried hard to stick to
it but it seemed a cruel way to start each day and worse still if I left it till
the end of the day. The thought of the exercise ahead of me took away any
pleasure a day might once have held.
In time I gave up all stereotyped exercise preferring to use
my body for purposeful actions, the sort that make up a life, walking,
housework, sex. 
I have since enjoyed a life that is exercise free until
recently when a friend sent me notice of a new form of exercise called Keiser
training. Two half hour sessions a week are all a person needs to begin to
develop stronger muscles.
‘If you don’t get some exercise,’ my daughters warn me,
‘your bones will start to crumble.’
And so for the past two weeks I have visited a
physiotherapist at the Keiser training centre closest to my home and begun to
acquaint myself with a series of machines designed to give me back my strength.
The Keiser training place looks like a space laboratory,
white walls, clean wooden floors and a series of machines each erected
differently to take a person through a series of manoeuvres designed to offer
resistance in the form of increasing weights pitched against particular muscles
and movement.
My neck is weak, the physiotherapist tells me, perhaps from
sitting for hours hunched over a desk; but over all my agility is fine.  So far the exercise seems painless but
she reminds me, we are still on relatively light weights.
I do this exercise now because it is allegedly good for me.  I do it to get my daughters off my
back.  I do it because I am
fearful that my bones might crumble if I do not offer some resistance to the
process of aging, but it will take some perseverance and my track record is not
I wonder whether I am alone in this.  All my life I’ve been dogged by a sense
of never being able to catch up with myself. 
It once took the form of a thought, a thought I had when I
was in grade six: if only I was now back in grade two I would be able to do
grade two again and so much better.
When I was in my final year at school the same thought: if
only I were just now beginning high school, with all the knowledge I have gained since, I’d be able to do it so much better. 
And now more than half way through my life the same thought
again: if only I were back at university now I would be able to do it all so
much better, and maybe in another twenty years time I will wish I could go back
in time and have my last go again. 
Will I think the same about Keiser training in twenty years
time?  If only I could do it again,
I’d do it so much better, but in twenty years time it might be too late.